Hermit crabs are going to be pretty interesting pets. You’ll find that they’re entertaining to watch because of the ways that they interact with the environment.
You likely know that hermit crabs need to have sand in their habitats. Sometimes you’ll likely see the hermit crab bury itself in the sand.
Why do hermit crabs do this? Is it simply something that they enjoy doing or is there a greater purpose that you aren’t aware of?
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about hermit crabs burying themselves in the sand. You’ll have a full understanding of why sand is so important to hermit crabs once you’re done reading.
1 – Molting
Typically, hermit crabs bury themselves when they’re molting. Molting is something that hermit crabs do every so often.
When a hermit crab molts, it’s going to shed its exoskeleton. The exoskeleton doesn’t grow along with the rest of the crab.
As such, hermit crabs have to grow new exoskeletons as they increase in size. When hermit crabs are molting, they become rather vulnerable for a prolonged period of time.
To protect themselves, they burrow into the sand so that they can molt peacefully. Your hermit crab will stay hidden in the sand until it finishes molting.
The molting process has the potential to take a very long time. It could take several weeks and it might even take months.
Most hermit crabs molt once every twelve to eighteen months. There are certain factors that might increase the frequency of molting sessions, though.
2 – Significant Stress Issues
Sometimes significant stress issues will cause hermit crabs to bury themselves, too. Hermit crabs can become anxious for a number of different reasons.
When they feel very anxious, they might bury themselves in the sand. This is seen as a coping mechanism.
It should be a sign that something is wrong in the environment. Perhaps your hermit crab’s habitat isn’t as good as it should be.
Does the hermit crab have enough hiding spots in the tank? Is the environment good as far as humidity and heat go?
There might be some changes that you’ll need to make for the safety of the crab. You might even simply have the hermit crab tank in a bad spot.
For example, hermit crabs don’t like being exposed to loud noises. If the hermit crab habitat is in a noisy room with loud TVs or speakers, it’s not going to be ideal.
Hermit crabs can get stressed if you have other pets near them such as dogs or cats. It’s likely best to keep the hermit crab habitat in a safe room where curious dogs and cats can get too close to the tank.
Even handling a hermit crab is something that can cause it stress. If you’ve been handling your hermit crab too much, that might be why it’s burying itself in the sand so much.
Essentially, the hermit crab is hiding because it doesn’t want to be handled. It’s always best to keep handling to a minimum.
3 – The Hermit Crab Is New to the Tank
Hermit crabs sometimes hide in the sand when they’re scared. Earlier, you learned that hermit crabs use hiding in the sand as a coping mechanism.
It’s important to know that hermit crabs are usually a bit scared when they are transferred to a new tank. So if you just bought a hermit crab from a pet store, it’s likely going to be scared for a while.
It might choose to bury itself in the sand to hide. Perhaps it’s scared and it isn’t sure what to think yet.
Eventually, the hermit crab should open up and come out of hiding. It’s also normal for new hermit crabs to avoid eating for the first few days since they’re so nervous.
4 – Searching for Food
Sometimes you’ll see hermit crabs digging in the sand because they’re looking for food. This is a natural thing for hermit crabs since they do this in the wild.
In the wild, hermit crabs will sometimes dig in the sand so they can find things to eat. They eat all sorts of different things, and this means that they might eat bugs or just about anything else that they can find in the sand.
Your hermit crab shouldn’t do this too often if you’re feeding it properly. When you notice hermit crabs searching for food after you’ve fed them it’s a sign that they’re not content with your offerings.
Wild hermit crabs usually don’t eat the same thing too many times in a row. This is partially because they have so many options in the wild.
Perhaps you need to do a better job of mixing things up. It might be beneficial to give the hermit crabs different types of food so they don’t get bored.
Hermit crabs eat various things, and it’s important to give them protein, veggies, and fruits. For protein, it might be wise to give them mealworms as well as other things.
You can give hermit crabs spinach, corn, carrots, apples, bananas, and more. Simply be sure to wash fruits and veggies thoroughly before giving them to hermit crabs for safety purposes.
Hermit crabs are extremely sensitive to chemicals. So you must wash food just in case it was exposed to pesticides or other chemicals.
5 – Hermit Crabs Simply Enjoy Digging
You’ll find that hermit crabs simply enjoy digging. It’s normal for these crabs to dig just because they find it to be fun.
Digging is a normal action for hermit crabs. So it isn’t always related to molting or something being wrong.
Wild hermit crabs will dig tunnels in the sand so they can get from one side of the beach to the other safely. They might do things like this in captivity just because they can.
Hermit crabs have a natural urge to dig in the sand. So the act of digging can be seen simply as hermit crabs doing what hermit crabs are meant to do.
6 – Hiding From the Light
Another thing to keep in mind is that hermit crabs are nocturnal creatures. They’re active during the night and tend to want to stay away from bright light.
During the day, it’s normal for hermit crabs to hide. Sometimes hermit crabs might hide in the sand during the day.
Also, if the lights are too bright in the habitat, they might choose to hide. Hermit crabs can become stressed if you expose them to strong lights.
When the lights are off, you might see the hermit crab start to move around more. Some hermit crab owners say that their crabs have learned to operate more during the day, but it can take a while for hermit crabs to start doing this.
Many say that it’s best to allow hermit crabs to maintain their natural cycles. It does make sense to do this when you want hermit crabs to stay healthy.
Why Is My Hermit Crab Digging So Much?
It’s normal for hermit crabs to start digging a lot just before they molt. So if your hermit crab appears to be digging more than usual, it might be a sign that it’s going to molt soon.
Since the most likely scenario is that the hermit crab will molt soon, you don’t have to worry. It’s unlikely that excessive digging is related to stress.
If you’re sure that the hermit crab isn’t about to molt, it’s best to check things out. There could be stress factors that are causing it to want to dig more than usual.
How to Tell When a Hermit Crab Is Getting Ready to Molt
You can tell that a hermit crab is getting ready to molt by taking note of certain signs. When hermit crabs start preparing to molt, they’ll often begin digging more than usual.
Sometimes they will dig constantly as they’re getting ready. It’s also normal for the hermit crab to start eating and drinking more.
They start to eat and drink more than usual in preparation for molting. The reason for this is that they need to store fat and stay as hydrated as possible so they can survive the process.
The crab might become more sluggish as it gets closer to molting. You’ll also notice some physical signs because of changes to the way the crab looks.
Hermit crabs that are about to molt often take on a gray appearance. You’ll also likely see that the hermit crab’s eyes will appear to be glazed over.
How Long Do Hermit Crabs Stay Buried?
How long a hermit crab will stay buried in the sand depends on what’s going on. Is the hermit crab molting?
If the hermit crab is molting, it won’t emerge from the sand anytime soon. Molting is a long and arduous process for hermit crabs.
It can take weeks or even months for a hermit crab to finish molting. So you’ll need to be patient if the crab is molting.
If the hermit crab is burying itself in the sand just to hide, it might come out after several hours have passed. Often, hermit crabs will come out of hiding when it’s nighttime or when the lights go out.
For factors that are unrelated to molting, it just depends on the situation. The hermit crab could stay buried for some time or it might come out shortly.
Never Disturb a Molting Hermit Crab
Disturbing a molting hermit crab is never a good idea. You don’t want to do this because it’s dangerous for the crab.
Hermit crabs molt every twelve to eighteen months on average. During this time, they’re incredibly vulnerable.
You learned earlier that they bury themselves in the sand for protection. They’re trying to molt and remain undisturbed so that they can regrow their exoskeletons in peace.
If you bother a hermit crab while it’s molting you could wind up killing it. Hermit crabs get very shocked when they’re disturbed while molting.
The shock might kill the crab, and that’s the biggest reason why you must avoid interacting with hermit crabs while they’re molting. If the crab doesn’t perish, it might get so stressed that it’ll wind up losing some of its legs.
Patience is key when you’re caring for hermit crabs as pets. They might molt for long periods of time, and you’ll need to leave them be for safety purposes.
It’s normal to be concerned for the crab when it’s molting, but you simply must wait. Hopefully, the crab will be fine and it’ll emerge from the sand soon enough.
What if You Suspect the Crab Is Dead?
You might be worried that the crab has died if a lot of time has passed. It’s common to be concerned that your pet has died when it’s molting.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell what’s going on. However, it’s usually pretty apparent when a hermit crab passes you.
When hermit crabs die they start to smell terrible. The smell of a dead hermit crab is very reminiscent of dead fish.
The strong odor is going to give you an indication that the hermit crab is dead. So if you smell the habitat and it smells horrible, there’s a good chance that the hermit crab perished.
A hermit crab might die while molting for many reasons. Sometimes it might get shocked by another crab and die.
It also might not have had sufficient energy to make it through the molting session. Whatever it is that happened, you’ll simply have to remove the dead hermit crab from the tank and then clean things thoroughly.
Dead hermit crabs should be removed from the habitat as soon as possible. Many people choose to bury their dead hermit crabs.
Knowing more about why hermit crabs bury themselves should help you significantly. You now know that hermit crabs bury themselves for many reasons.
It’s normal for hermit crabs to bury themselves when they’re molting. Molting is an important thing that hermit crabs do every so often.
Hermit crabs also bury themselves when they become stressed. They might use hiding in the sand as a coping mechanism when they’re experiencing anxiety.
However, they’ll also dig in the sand to look for food as well as for fun. So you can’t assume that hiding in the sand is a bad thing without context.
Jeff has always enjoyed having pets, but as a child, he was drawn to his family’s fish tank. Being able to maintain a small ecosystem and observe the behaviors and interactions in the underwater world peaked his interest early on and has kept him hooked until this day. On Avid Aquarist, Jeff shares everything he’s learned about helping aquatic life survive and thrive in a home aquarium.